Lending Club Faces Pressure to Redeem An Entire Industry

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Lending Club IPO

In the wee early morning hours of May 3rd, I finally wrapped up the latest deBanked story and hit the publish button. Then as I made my way off to bed, I started to second guess the headline. Titled, Is The Marketplace Lending Apocalypse Upon Us?, I fretted over whether or not it was overly sensational.

Apocalypse. Apocalypse. Apocalypse, I repeated over and over in my head.

As I tossed and turned for an hour, I worried that thousands of readers would think deBanked was crossing over into tabloid territory. I decided to leave it up anyway, certain enough at least that the clouds forming over the horizon signaled the arrival of a dark storm.

Less than a week later, Lending Club’s famous CEO would resign in disgrace in a scandal that also brought down several other employees. The company would delay its quarterly earnings report and the stock would drop by more than 50% over the course of just a few days. Closely related companies like OnDeck would be dragged down by the news, Wall Street banks would announce suspensions of securitizations, and community banks would halt the purchases of Lending Club loans. Blackstone Group would end its planned foray into online lending and banks like Wells Fargo, smelling blood in the water, would strike at the heart of some marketplace lenders by announcing a new technology-enabled product.

Reporters from all types of media outlets would contact me to ask what I thought of it all and I spoke from my gut in some of them.

Little details would trickle out, such as a whistle-blower submission to the SEC last July over Lending Club’s disclosure practices and another board member’s stake in a little known company named Cirrix Capital would be called into question. The non-stop fearmongering headlines from the media definitely didn’t help.

Lending Club’s complete silence after Monday morning’s announcement only made it worse. Those who buy notes on their platform never received a single communication about it, a fact that might be entirely related to quiet period rules surrounding the release of quarterly earnings. For some platform users, that continued silence fed into even the most rational investors’ worst fears.

On the LendAcademy forum for example, some users argued that Lending Club could be facing bankruptcy before the end of the year. Many who were more calm but still concerned, indeed said they were refraining from purchasing new notes until they got further guidance just to be safe. Others ventured off into complete paranoia while rational minds tried to reel them back to reality. As someone who has a significant Lending Club portfolio, I found myself shifting back and forth between those roles.

Everything is fine. Or is it?! No, everything should be fine. BUT WHAT IF IT’S NOT?!!

On Monday, In what will be a semi-post-apocalyptic world, Lending Club will have a lotta ‘splainin to do. New CEO Scott Sanborn will be tasked with restoring order to the world of marketplace lending. His predecessor, Renaud Laplanche, was the face of peer-to-peer finance. He was an icon. As the four-time keynote speaker of LendIt, Laplanche’s persona assured a skeptical public that disruption in lending was true Silicon Valley innovation, not Wall Street engineering. This lending marketplace could not possibly be risky, one might have supposed, because it looked so charmingly French. The intellectual in the red vest with a degree from école des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Paris did not look and sound like Dick Fuld from New York City. And yet Lending Club’s offense that led to Laplanche’s departure, opened it up to comparison to the shoddy mortgage origination market in the early 2000s that led to Lehman Brothers’ collapse and the Great Recession.

This week, Scott Sanborn will have to make a most convincing argument to restore belief in the movement. Regulators, legislators, investors, and borrowers alike, have pegged at least some of their perceptions surrounding fintech to Lending Club. What happens this week may very well decide the future of online lending altogether. For Sanborn, those are some very big shoes to fill, or in Lending Club’s case, it will all depend on how good he looks in his red vest.

Autres temps, autres mœurs

Godspeed.

Last modified: May 15, 2016
Sean Murray


Category: Marketplace Lending

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